Legendary Mac n’ Cheese
I’ve said for years that I’d never share my legendary Mac n’ Cheese recipe, and I’m holding to that. I spent too much time and energy on it to just give it away. However, in the spirit of excellent food and culinary companionship, I’ll give you everything I do, step-by-step, and almost all of the ingredients I use. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to produce some seriously rich and delicious world-class mac n’ cheese.
Legendary Mac n’ Cheese
2 quarts heavy cream
2 lbs cheese, grated
8 oz. Parmigiano Regiano or Romano cheese, freshly grated
1 lb elbow macaroni, cooked just a little under al dente
2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 stick butter
salt and pepper to taste
A quick word on ingredients – the higher quality ingredients you use, the better your end result will be, period. It’s not unusual for me to spend $40-$50 on the cheese alone when I’m making this dish for a special occasion. Although I won’t give away my exact blend (and it changes from time to time), I will say that using a 50/50 blend of English and Irish cheddar is a good ratio for at least one pound of the grated cheese, and a half pound of Fontina or Smoked Gouda add a nice earthy, nutty flavor. I’ve been known to use as many as six different cheeses and as little as two. This is where you get to be creative, but whatever you do, don’t use crappy cheese.
I also use the heaviest cream I can find, which is around 40% butterfat – it’s rich, and delicious, and makes this dish exceptionally creamy. The Parmigiano Regiano or romano cheese is used to top the whole concoction. Feel free to mix it up, but what you’re looking for is a sharp, salty, hard cheese.
Preheat oven to 375°
Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the Panko bread crumbs and stir until evenly coated. remove from heat.
In a large sauce pan over medium heat, reduce the heavy cream by about a third. Keep an eye on it, cream can be a fickle bitch and boil over without notice. Cleaning burned cream out of your range is no fun, trust me on this one. Be patient, this could take an hour or so.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the grated cheese that you’ve chosen (NOT the parm or romano, that comes later) about 1/2 cup at a time, slowly and gently stirring until each portion is incorporated, and not adding more cheese until the previous portion is completely melted. Be patient, and do this over medium-low heat. If you raise the temperature too much, the cheese will curdle and you’ve failed.
After you have all of the grated cheese incorporated into a smooth, creamy sauce, add salt and pepper to taste. This is where I add my secret spices. If you’ve paid attention in any of my classes, you’ll know what to add to keep the flavor on your tongue just a little longer. If you’ve never attended one of my classes, you’re missing out.
In a large bowl, gently mix the macaroni and cheese sauce. The macaroni should still have a very slight “crunch” at it’s center. The mixture will be quite thin and soupy, and that’s okay – the macaroni will absorb some of the moisture and the entire mix will thicken as it cooks.
Butter a casserole dish large enough to accommodate the entire mixture, or several smaller ramekins if you’re making individual or smaller servings. Pour the mixture into the buttered dishes. Top generously with the Parm or Romano, then sprinkle the buttered Panko bread crumbs on top. This will form the crispy crust.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until the crust is a deep, golden brown. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.